Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sinking The Bismarck

Courtesy German Federal Archive

When the battleship Bismarck was launched in August 1940 she was – along with her sister ship Tirpitz – the largest battleship ever built by Germany, and one of the largest anywhere. Her short (eight month) career was cut short in an unnamed battle after an all-out effort by the Royal Navy to find and “Sink the Bismarck!”

The 41,000-ton, 823-ft long Bismarck was indeed formidable, with eight 15-inch guns, dozens of smaller weapons, and armor more than a foot thick in some places. In sea trials, she had reached speeds of 30 knots. Her crew of more than 2,000 was commanded by Otto Ernst Lindemann, one of a relatively few officers who had been serving continuously in the German navy since World War I.

Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were assigned to attack Allied merchant shipping in the North Atlantic. After being spotted by a Swedish vessel while en route to her new assignment, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were intercepted by British ships in what would come to be known as the Battle of Denmark Strait. Bismarck was damaged in this battle, but forced the British battleship Prince of Wales to retreat with heavy damage, and sank the HMS Hood, a battlecruiser called the “pride of the Royal Navy.”

The sinking of the Hood was a blow not only to the fighting power, but the pride of the British Navy, and an all-out search and pursuit of the German battleship began by more than three dozen British warships. Lindemann made for occupied France and the protection of german aircraft and U-boats while engaging in a running artillery duel with his pursuers. The British eventually lost track of Bismarck, but on May 26, 1941 she was spotted by a (supposedly still neutral) American pilot, and intercepted by a nearby British force. Damaged heavily in attacks by torpedo bombers that day, the Bismarck sank the next day. The British claimed the coup de grace was delivered by an attack by the heavy cruiser Dorsetshire, while many of the 114 survivors of the Bismarck’s crew claim the ship was scuttled to avoid capture.

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